There really aren’t too many bands that have been together for as long as Therapy? has and with dozens of top forty hits and millions of albums sold around the world there are even fewer bands that can boast of such success. They have toured the world and played in every type of venue imaginable so after over twenty years of it you would think that they might be getting a little road weary by now but not this threesome! Fuelled by their love of the music their camaraderie and their legions of dedicated fans Therapy? are as fantastic as ever. I was lucky enough to grab a few moments for a quick chat with Michael McKeegan and Neil Cooper backstage before they took to the stage at Newcastle’s O2 Academy. (read the live review) Now to be honest I am a huge Therapy? fan, their music has been the soundtrack to many a drunken night out for most of my adult life and I was pretty nervous about talking to them. I mean how often do you get to meet your musical idols in the flesh? There can be no denying their musical pedigree and experience and the fear of making a complete ass of myself was very real but despite their success the guys are stunningly down to earth and played the perfect hosts even offering out a whole plethora of drinkable substances from the fridge but hosting aside it was a real pleasure to talk to them and here is what they had to say about their fans (whom they really do love and appreciate) and the highs and lows of touring.
H: I noticed that you recorded your last album here in Newcastle, what made you decide to record here?
M: We’ve actually recorded the last two albums up here. Our label is based in Newcastle and they own the studio as well so it was a bit of a no brainer.
H: So it was just easier then?
M: Yeah a lot easier. In the past we’ve done lots of recordings in places like London, because we know so many people in London, we never really get anything done! And some studios are really really isolated you’re in a country house for four weeks and you can go stir crazy. This studio isn’t really in town, it’s just down below Biker, but there’s still stuff on your doorstep so you don’t have to get a taxi four miles to the nearest supermarket so that’s good.
H: So you prefer the city life to the country life then?
M: It depends, for recording it’s nice to have a music shop nearby with some studios you have to wait two days for strings to get sent out and that can really put a drain on the studio time. But the one we’re in really is a great studio there’s no point in choosing one just because it’s convenient.
N: Yeah there’s a 24/7!
M: And the curry house is great!
H: I know you’ve been in the industry for a while now and there have been quite a few bands that started out in the late ‘80’s then split up and are now reforming but you guys have been pretty steady throughout it all.
M: Neil’s been in the band for ten years this year.
N: I’m the new boy.
M: I think if Neil hadn’t joined then we probably would have split up. We had gone down a rout that we weren’t really all that happy or comfortable with the ex-members, not on a personal level; just their focus had gone a bit. With regards to a lot of bands when everything is hunky dory and everyone loves them then there comes a turn and maybe they’re not in favour anymore, their scene has moved on or maybe they’re not getting enough press and they panic and split up. We’ve always done our thing but before we had a big commercial success we had done a few singles and two albums so we were already out own little entity then we really got a lot of media focus. We never formed a band to be on the front cover of magazines that was never the impetus for us, we’re musicians, just because NME don’t want to put us on the cover why would we not still be creative? We’ve been lucky, we’ve always had a good fan base right across the world. Some bands are very popular in the UK and when that goes there’s nowhere for them to go because people have moved on to the next thing and they don’t follow them in the likes of Germany or Scandinavia, we we’re lucky to be always on tour and have a fan-base in those countries which are perhaps a little less scene led than the UK.
N: It’s like Michael said wherever we’re invited you know Russia or Canada or wherever we’ll go and play and luckily get a good turnout in every country. I think it’s a weird one, especially with some bands, they will do really well in the UK but then go over to the continent and play to only twenty people get really doomed out and never go back but you’ve got to keep on going back and going back and going back. We still have that, we’ve just done five or six weeks in Europe and you go everywhere and it’s great but you will find somewhere that the band have never been before and the attendance is slightly less than everywhere else if we just got completely doomed out about that then it would be a waste of time but we know in another year we will be back in the same place. We still expect even twenty years down the line those people to go and tell their friends, there’s that work ethic that runs throughout the band that we will keep going back and just keep building and building.
M: It’s about playing the long game. There is no point in us going “Right, let’s try and flip a hit single… let’s try and flip a hit single…Oh no we didn’t flip a hit single!” I suppose we’re kind of more old school in that regard you know you need to go out and PLAY to people and get your music across on that level. Now obviously record sales have tailed off and a lot of bands now are “We’ve got to tour?!?” and they have to go to Europe, American bands especially! I was talking to a Dutch record guy and he was saying all the American bands are saying that they aren’t making any money so they have to tour now and not just do London and Manchester then fly home they need to commit and do a load of shows and he thinks it’s quite funny because they do not like it! But we’ve always had that, we never rely on record sales or chart hits to keep us kept men we were always out there working a tour and it’s good to have that. Obviously with the internet and social media and all that you can spread the word right across the world which is good as well.
H: WG is completely online, we don’t have anything in print, and we get hits from all over the world, Australia, America, Canada, Europe…
M: That’s amazing that is having that global reach. To be totally honest I don’t buy magazines anymore, I’ve got a subscription to Terroriser Magazine and I buy the newspaper but all my music stuff is internet based.
N: That’s just the way it is these days. Michael looks after the twitter and the facebook side of it and we were chatting earlier and there is that thing with so much rumour flying around the internet it’s nice from our end to be able to say well come to the official website and there it is in black and white straight from our mouths so to speak. The great thing about that is you have this one big outlet that fans can trust and it’s good to keep people up to date, you’re going around Europe and literally you can be in Italy and your onstage at midnight, Glasgow on a Friday night and we’re onstage at eight o’ clock it just fluctuates and a lot of people might buy a ticket and go “Well Therapy? are going to be on at half nine so I’ll stay in the pub.” and then they get there and we’re just finishing the set.
M: That has happened.
N: In the UK it’s crazy how early you go on stage but like here it’s because of the club night after which is the state the industry is in. With twitter and that kind of outlet just to let people know what’s going on so for people who have been good enough to go and buy their ticket won’t miss the first four or five songs which is important to us.
H: As you’ve said you’ve just been around Europe and you’ve spent quite a bit of time on the road are there any places in particular that would give you a real buzz to go back to?
M: It really depends, you can have a sold out show in Brussels on a Friday night and it’s mental and you can play the same show in Brussels on a wet Sunday and it’s not so mental, the reaction isn’t the same. We never really take it for granted because a show was good the time before it’ll always be great, we’ve learnt over the years that you can sometimes kid yourself and then you realise that it’s Monday night and people have work in the morning so there is no mosh pit but the last time was a Saturday night and everyone was going bat-shit crazy so you learn just to go on and put on a really good show for the people who are there. Sometimes with the gigs you have a slightly lower expectation and they can be really surprising, we did Nottingham on Sunday night and we thought “Oh Nottingham on a Sunday night everyone’s going to be tired from the weekend.”And they were amazing, a really great crowd singing and dancing along and going for it and that’s good because it shows just how passionate people are about it. We put on a really good show, there’s no slacking on stage! You need to make every gig as good as it can be that’s out ground level rule.
H: So do you adjust your performance for gigs on different nights?
M: (laughs) Oh No! No it’s not like that, you know, I’ve got a photo shoot in the morning I need my beauty sleep so we’ll just do half an hour set! (laughs) Neil grew up in Darby and we grew up just outside of Belfast and not many bands came to play so when they did come it was a big deal to us to see our heroes and bands that we loved. I always think that if we go somewhere weird or somewhere obscure I always think well we didn’t come all this way to play like idiots we’re here to entertain people that what I always appreciated with people like Faith No More, The Rawlings Band, and the Chilli Peppers came over and did shows during the troubles when the bands we’re probably shitting themselves thinking they were going to get blown up and had heard all these horror stories so you should always play to the top of your abilities.
H: I wasn’t implying that you play any less enthusiastically!
M: Well Shirley Manson got herself in trouble there, she was on twitter after she played in Cologne the other night she said something like “Oh that was a bit of a cold reception” and a few people tweeted back saying you can’t really be judging your fans and she replied “Fuck off and blow me!”
N: The point is if I go and see a band I’m not going to be down in the mosh pit, maybe twenty years ago, but now I’m more likely to be at the bar and I have walked out of gigs going “That was fucking amazing!” but I was stood at the back with a pint and still totally appreciated the gig. So if you walk off stage and everyone’s quiet they can still all walk out thinking it was absolutely amazing just because everyone isn’t going nuts doesn’t mean it’s not well received.
M: There are different forms of audience appreciation.
N: One thing we always find is when we are invited out to places like Moscow we all appreciate that we have been invited out there and realistically, when you deeper into places like when we went to Kartinaberg literally in the hotel there wasn’t even BBC world service, you really were in the thick of it. But the point is that we would not be there unless we were musicians and playing and it’s that kind of appreciation instead of being pissed that there’s no McDonalds round the corner we do really appreciate the places we get to go to.
M: You do see some bands that will complain that there’s no HP sauce and we’re like “Your in Japan, there is no HP sauce here!” I mean really there is some of the finest cuisine in the world there. It’s just funny how some people behave on tour.
H: So you must really enjoy immersing yourselves in the local culture when you’re away?
M: Yeah, if there is a local beer we’ll choose that over some of the big name brands.
N: We’ll often be taken out to local restaurants and we’ll say to feed us with whatever the local food is.
M: It can go horribly wrong though! When we played in Israel we got served bulls testicals! It was back in the mid-nineties and I kept thinking “I don’t want to offend the host…” They just kept bringing more and more meat out and they we’re really proud… they we’re bloody horrible to eat! But they we’re cooked at least and it was quite funny but those are the things you remember having that experience which we would never have had if we had said lets go to McDonalds.
H: Do you think you would have still been able to go and do these amazing things if you hadn’t had the hits of the early nineties?
M: Probably not, I love the Troublegum album, I like all the albums for different reasons but the early ones are just full of good songs that obviously made a connection with a lot of people. We get asked a lot if we ever get tired of playing ‘Screamager’ and it’s like well no because it’s a really great song, the smile on people’s faces when you kick into it is amazing, I would never deny them that all those people who bought the song and invested a lot of time and effort into it and then bought a ticket to come and see us live. There is a legacy to the band which is great we’re lucky as a lot of bands don’t really have a history, I like bands like Depeche Mode who have a lot of history, everyone’s different and some you like more than others and I’ve got my favourites and other Depeche Mode fans will argue with me well that one’s terrible and blah blah blah and I see a lot of that with the Therapy? audience as well different albums are loved for different reasons. A lot of bands don’t have the luxury of saying “Oh I don’t want to play the hit tonight.” because they’ve never had a hit. We’ve had twenty odd top forty hits in the UK and a few in Europe, I think we were number one in Israel as well of all places. But just because we do have the history doesn’t mean that’s all you should play we have to learn from that and that’s what we’ve been doing. Getting rid of all the stuff we we’re bogged down in and reassess and put a fresh head on and move forward in a good way musically and I think you have to be creative as well. You don’t just play the hits year on and year out.
N: You might as well become a bloody tribute band.
H: You’ve never been a band that was afraid to experiment though.
N: I think within the band there is a constant forward thinking and from the three of us a forward motion all the time if you do just become stagnant if you just sit or taking one of the old hits and try to rewrite it or do a part two to it.
M: What a lot of people forget is albums like Troublegum were the million sellers, we didn’t sit sown in a board room and say “We’re going to write a million seller album.” It wasn’t that premeditated we just had a bunch of good songs that we were into with gusto, there was a lot of little factors that fell into place, you can’t really premeditate that and you just have to switch off you cynical head and switch on your I love music head. I think that applies with books and films and anything creative, otherwise you get stagnant it’s not like we’re making the same chair for twenty years you need to use your experience and find what you’re doing, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but that’s part of the fun, part of the story, part of the pub argument you have with your mates about why you did such and such a thing.
N: I think it’s one of those questions that always comes up, I’ve sat in interviews where often it’s fired at Andy well why not do a follow up and it’s very easy as an outsider to say that but if Andy tried to write lyrics to ‘Screamager Part Two’ now he’s a completely different man to what he was then and artistically it will come out completely different anyway, does he pretend to try and write lyrics like a younger man?
M: It would just be a weaker copy. People are a lot more savvy than they get credit for, as a music fan myself I’m sometimes “Come on mate I know what you’re up to there!”so people know when its insincere. It’s like anything if it’s done with conviction and from the heart then I’m usually into it whether its film or art or just some guy busking in the street if he’s into it.
The guys will be on tour for another four dates and I can’t recommend highly enough that you get yourselves out there and see them! Dec 4th Reading – Sub 89, Dec 5th Cardiff – Globe, Dec 6th Portsmouth – Wedgewood Rooms, Dec 7th London – Koko.